This column first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of the Setonian. It is the first of my “how-to-be-awesome” monthly column.
“You do too much.” These are the words that have plagued me since before college. Friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches–even my parents have tried to get me to take a break from at least one of my many endeavors because they thought I was spreading myself too thin. Then, and even now, I beg to differ.
I’m not going to say that I never took on more than I could handle, but I’ve always managed to sort out my priorities well enough to succeed in each and every thing that I do. There were definitely times when I did too much but fate always found a way to warn me…like when I managed to wreck not one but two vehicles over the span of four days during my first semester of college. That was a learning experience. If you really do too much, something has to give. At the time, I put working part-time on hiatus until breaks between the semester and breaks between seasons. Later, I traded my status as an athlete for some much-needed freedom to pursue additional resume building projects.
I’ve learned a lot in these four years, and I’m happy to share all of the secrets to my success…or at least, the majority of them 🙂
Prioritize your tasks and obligations. For much of my college career, I have scheduled my days practically down to the minute to allow myself ample time to complete all of my assignments and readings for classes.
Sleep is more important than writing a paper or studying for an exam. In 2010, NPR published an article outlining the benefits to having at least 10 hours of sleep per night. They summarized a study performed by Stanford University which showed not only an improvement for scholarly athletes’ grades but also an improvement in skills on the playing field.
I rarely had the opportunity to sleep for 10 hours, but I did my best to get at least seven. The philosophy behind my reasoning is simple: if I’m tired, I won’t feel like doing the work, so I’ll continue to put it off until I eventually give up and then I’ll have to wake up early to finish the paper anyway. So, rather than waste valuable sleep time, I plan to go to bed a little earlier so I can wake up refreshed and pound out the rest of the paper. Besides, I work better under pressure.
Work ahead when you get the chance. I know this doesn’t always work out because the last thing anyone wants to do when they have a homework-free day is more homework, but it really does help. Even if you’re just ahead in a single class, the workload will be incredibly lighter.
Enroll in a J-term or eight-week course. Even though they are technically viewed as more intensive courses, they lighten your semester significantly. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took two J-term courses and only had to worry about eight credits by the end of February, which worked out great with my busy sports schedule. Yes, it wasn’t “fun” starting school on January 1 rather than three weeks later with all my friends, but it was definitely worth it during finals week.
Use your time between classes efficiently–even if you’re just using it to take a much-needed nap. I don’t care how old you are, everyone could use a good nap now and again, especially when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted. Sometimes an extra hour of shut eye can make all the difference in your efforts to study for a big exam.
Unplug from the world when your studying or writing. I don’t care what you’re studying, in most cases, you don’t need Internet access to do it. I once took my laptop outside into my backyard to write an essay for my theology course because Facebook and StumbleUpon were just too tempting. That essay made the difference in getting an A- rather than a B- like I’d been fearing, and I owe it mostly to my discipline to eliminate distractions. Cutting out most of my technology also helped me to speed up the writing process significantly. In the past four years, multiple news reports have suggested that Facebook is often responsible for lower grades in college. Technically, it’s the undisciplined student who can’t prioritize, but still. This Lent, try giving up Facebook or Twitter to see what you can accomplish. You don’t have to be Catholic. It might be fun to see how much more productive you become!
Probably the most important suggestion or tip that I have is to save time to have some fun, whether it’s just hanging out with friends during a movie night or it’s going out for a night on the town. You deserve it! Just try not to go overboard. You’re in college to learn, not to party and flunk out, so make the most of your money and time. And remember…only you can determine if you really do too much.